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Thursday, 28 June 2018

University Mental Health

I HATE ya-boo party politics, its tiresome and irritating. This is nothing to do with that. …and this is certainly NOT a blog about mental health (MH), I am not an expert; this is about the new statements by Gyimah on the government vision for Uni MH. 

Of course I applaud the re-statement that Unis should care about mental health, but I am disquieted by the Government line, to start with, because the implication is that Unis don’t care about student MH. That is far from the truth from my experience. If there are Unis that don’t care then of course they need to be dealt with. I’m sure we all need to improve, but I didn’t hear anything useful today I don’t think. 

So (1) Why has he said these things? (2) What could he do? (1) Firstly; why has he said this. Well despite the recent study showing there are fewer suicides when young people are in Unis, than compared to the same age group outside of University, of course there is a problem. There is a problem, everywhere, including Universities and I think experts will need to try and come up with reasons. Some lay-person suggestions: (A) Mobile tech is allowing work to chase us around all day and night, (B) Social media (especially imaged/photo based) is giving a totally false view of how everyone ELSE in society is actually getting on, feeling, heck looking. I am no "young person” and even I spent about 30 mins touching up photos for me Twitter icon. …and yes, that was the best I could do! Frankly I didn’t even know I wasn’t good looking until I was xxx years old, because my dad told me that I was, bless him :-) (C) We are actively encouraging people to talk about their MH and refer themselves to support if they need it. So it stands to reason reports will go up. (D) Unis have expanded massively and all the league tables and what not have probably brought more of a cut and thrust to what was, apparently, once a chillaxed village of dreaming spires? (E) Fees anyone? How can anyone not see there is an association with financial wellbeing and emotional distress. 

So, we all know about the well publicised student tragedies, obviously I’m sure he is not trying to make political capital over that, he’s not a monster, but I think he is generally thinking of the electorate; not so much the electorate of students (our customers/clients), but of parents. He said (BBC radio 4 this morning (28th June) that Unis should “absolutely” act in loco parentis (as parents) and that we should, just like boarding school, pass on information directly to parents about their offspring. Currently, we absolutely do not do that. It would be illegal. Our students are nearly all adults and we treat them with the same privacy rules a company treats any adult customer. This is often a shocking surprise to parents. I have always been able to be helpful and polite when talking with parents (hopefully !!), but I can’t give out confidential info. Of course one expects to hear reports from school teachers about children… suddenly at Uni, we cannot and will not pass on confidential information. That needs to be explained frequently. Gyimah gave a caveat; legally he accepts that students would have to actively sign away their right to confidentiality, but this just sounds bizarre. Students can, of course, already ask us to pass info directly on to their parents (and in response to such a request I would so do) so WHAT is he even talking about? The call is also to invest in students MH support. Well of course Unis do already and spend millions on student support at UoL. Sadly, we are not able to just fix complex and deep-seated MH issues that students arrive with, or develop (or discover) whilst here :-( If only we could. 

(2) What could he do? (A) Well to start with, I suggest he works on some of his own colleagues. The worst experience I have had with being trolled (“dog piled”) was after I tweeted support for Universities’ “Safe Space” policy. I got about 50 right wing tweets of abuse within the hour (then had to turn the phone off!). Students were called, typically, “snow-flakes”. The right wing press also mock the idea that students should be free from bigotry whilst here. Many of his colleagues oppose the “Safe space” idea, so have a word with them and also get them (whilst he is at it) to increase the numbers of counsellors and clinical psychologists in the country. (B) Waiting lists outside of Universities for emotional /MH support are months and months!!! University should not be the only place where students can get MH support you know. (C) Scrap league tables (D) pay for Universities from the National Taxation in stead of student fees. (E) Rename/re-jig the student loans so students don’t feel like they are getting into debt.
Like so many policies; it’s all a little empty unless it is back up with new cold hard cash.

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